Tuesday 23 June 2015

Derbyshire in Three Drinks: If Johnson were a beer...

Returning from a few days in Derbyshire, I find my piece on a monument in Ashbourne church reprinted on today's Dabbler.
 Ashbourne was not on the itinerary this time, and we were based in Derby, a potentially very fine city hideously marred by Seventies-style ring road-based 'planning'. The skyline is dominated not by the cathedral tower but by skyscraper hotels and office blocks, and vast, curiously blank and opaque boxes of various shapes and colours occupy far too much of the understorey. Many of these no doubt looked wonderful on the drawing-board and duly won awards, but they sit in the Georgian-medieval-Victorian townscape like alien obtrusions. Happily, however, Derby has its river - the wondrous and lovely Derwent, a 'world heritage site' in itself - and enough of the city has survived the planners' attentions to afford some enjoyable urban rambling. But enough of Derby...

 Farther along the Derwent, in Belper, I came across a thoroughly delicious bottle of Falanghina in an Italian restaurant. This distinctive Italian was a few years ago expected to become the discerning budget drinker's alternative to Pinot Grigio and the all-conquering Sauvignon Blanc - but somehow it never happened, and that crown went rather to Picpoul de Pinet. Which was no bad thing, but if you come across a bottle of Falanghina do try it - you might well be in for a pleasant surprise.

In a pub near the vast man-made Carsington Water, I was delighted to spot a beer pump with the unmistakable features of Samuel Johnson (from the Reynolds portrait) on the handle. This was Dr Johnson bitter, brewed by the Leatherbritches brewery - not, alas, of Lichfield (or Ashbourne), but of Smisby in Leicestershire. I had never seen this beer before and had to have a pint - followed by another. I can report that, if Johnson were a beer, this is the beer he would be. It is described as 'a rich juicy malty beer with a nutty taste, a little fizziness on the tongue, with bitterness and a fresh clean taste'. We raised a glass to the Great Englishman.

The Barley Mow in Kirk Ireton, part of a fine 17th-century house, is one of the least 'improved' pubs I've ever set foot in - essentially a front parlour and a couple of rooms off, one of them upstairs, all sparsely furnished and looking virtually unchanged since the house was built. The 'bar' is a counter behind which are ranged four barrels of guest ales, the till is a wooden drawer, ale is drawn in jugs, and there are absolutely none of the trappings of a modern pub. Three of the tables are topped with sections of the slate bed of a billiards table. But the place is positively modernistic and go-ahead compared to what it was under the previous landlady, who refused even to take decimal money. The present landlady and her husband bought the house and pub nearly 40 years ago. The husband was a very distinguished local architect - but happily he was not responsible for any of Derby's architectural eyesores.

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